European Asylum Office launches operation to aid Belgium

European Asylum Office launches operation to aid Belgium
People on hunger strike in the Beguinage church last summer. Credit: Belga

The European asylum support office EASO has launched an operation to assist Belgium with its growing crisis of asylum seekers.

EASO will make up to 100 employees available to help and provide 150 reception units for the receiving of asylum seekers, many of whom are sleeping on the streets in Brussels as the existing reception points are overwhelmed.

“From the summer of 2018 up until early 2020, occupancy in the reception system of Belgium roughly doubled from about 16,000 to over 29,000 persons,” reads a press release from the agency.

“Although the reception capacity had been steadily increasing proportionately, the occupancy rate reached a high of 96% in September 2019.”

The number of asylum seekers stabilised in 2021 at the level of about 24,000 persons, but, “the current level of asylum applications still exceeds the maximum absorption capacity (around 2,000 persons per month) of the national reception system.”

This is only the eighth time EASO has had to launch an operation in a Member State, and will be the only EASO operation not in a Member State on the external border of the EU.

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“We invest in the EU, then it is also logical that we call on their services,” State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi (CD&V) said on Thursday.

“Controlling and managing migration is a European challenge. Today they are helping with the asylum agency, and in the long run hopefully with a common return and border policy.”

Volunteers and experts had long been warning of a crisis, which they blame on Belgium's poor management of their asylum system. Last month, Belgium had the fourth most asylum applications in the EU, according to Bruzz.

“The reception network in Belgium is under pressure due to the increased influx from Afghanistan since the Taliban regained power,” Mahdi said.

EASO will be providing support “to address emergency reception needs, notably by increasing the number of reception spaces available and improving the quality of existing emergency reception facilities.”

Medium-term efforts will increase reception capacity by supporting the establishment of a modular emergency reception centre.

“Up to 100 EASO personnel may be deployed throughout the period, including Site Management Experts, Information Provision Experts, Social Workers, Trainers, Child Protection Experts, a Reception Center Designer and interpreters,” the agency said.

EASO also has operations supporting the asylum and reception authorities of Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta.

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